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Carpe diem, Scotland

IMG_0135It’s not what time heals, but what it reveals, that occupies my mind these days. For of course time does not heal, not really. It might soothe, or mask, or obfuscate. But healing, true healing, how can that be? The concept of healing implies some ‘perfect state’ from which we have been rent asunder, and to which time returns us. But there is no perfect state, there is simply ‘what we make of it’ at any given point in time. There is simply the day ahead.

We had a national ‘rending asunder’ here in Scotland last week. A moment when time slowed as we all approached and then departed a crossroads. Stay or go. Status quo or the unknown. We chose to stay, we chose the status quo. In the aftermath a sense of shock seems to have descended on all sides – yes, no, and don’t know. But there is something else too. For all the talk of reconciliation and healing, there is a sense of the unrealism of that idea. There will be no healing, as the state from which we came is gone. There can only be a revealing, and (hopefully) a renewing as  we all finally understand what was at stake, what we actually voted on, and in the case of 55% of the population, in. Armed with new insight we address our challenges anew. We look ahead with new eyes, we act with new imperatives, we understand with new knowledge and insight. As our disappointment or elation withers the newness of this starts to make itself felt. We have moved from the unknown to the known, from the anticipated to the understood.

Exactly one week before the vote, I turned 50. And today, I ‘celebrate’ the 20th anniversary of my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. As Scotland woke up to its new reality, I couldn’t help reflect on how easy it is to hide from time and her revelations, to assume that time will stretch out endlessly, and that ills will be healed. At 50 I find myself reflecting daily on how precious not time, but what we do with it, is. I ponder on my younger self, pre-30, so innocently unaware of the preciousness of her health. I long to be able to tell her to enjoy (as she only rarely did as an adult though frequently did as a child) the physical achievement of bounding up stairs two at a time, of running through a forest, of swimming with grace and ease and speed.

I did, now and again, as an adult enjoy my simple physicality. I remember in the cafe I ran with some friends in my early 20s I would often become suddenly aware of how fluid and efficient my movements were as I rushed about gathering dishes, washing, drying, restocking on busy days. I remember as a child running, illicitly, around on rooftops enjoying the sensation of moving lightly but at speed to avoid detection. I long for that freedom. I have since the day I was diagnosed. I struggle to balance the remembrance of such embodied joy with my attempts to haul an awkward and pain ridden body through life. I struggle to forgive myself my innocence. I shudder as I remember as a young girl watching a man who walked with loudly slapping flat feet. How horrible, I thought, he looks: I congratulated myself on my smooth and easy gait, blissfully unaware of what was to come.

We have so few chances to renew ourselves in life, beset as we are with the constant battle against encroaching enfeeblement. MS has sped me along that route faster than I might have expected. I walk like a 70 year old on a good day, a 90 year old on a bad. So I know perhaps better than some my age that as we get older the cost of our renewal gets higher, and the opportunity to simply stay where we are becomes more falsely attractive. I leapt into the unknown myself recently, perhaps more keenly aware of the cost of staying put than I might otherwise have been had the sword of Damocles not accompanied me these last 20 years. But that same sword also gave me more reason than many to ponder the wisdom of walking away from a secure and permanent job as a 50 year old with secondary progressive MS. I leapt nevertheless.

I woke up last Friday to a Scotland that in the end decided not to leap. The wisdom of that choice time will tell. But the costs time will not heal. For all has changed now. A vote for the status quo could not, in the end, really be for the status quo for the vote has upended the Scottish people’s values and laid them out on the floor to be mulled over and reviewed against the backdrop of a process that has energised the spirit of democracy in this country. How it plays out we cannot know. But that change is inevitable, well that we all (yes or no) now know.

Time cannot heal, but it renews our sense of self and future, it prods us to embrace change, and it reminds us that after all we can only ever go forward. So at 50 and with 20 years of my journey with MS behind me, I, like Scotland, am looking forward with new eyes and new knowledge and new hope. I’ll never bound up stairs two at a time again. But there are other ways to embrace my physicality and time reminds me to seize them, to seize the day, as I hope now my country will. Not the day the 45% had perhaps hoped for. Not the day the 55% had perhaps expected. But it’s the one we have. Our day.

Carpe diem Scotland.

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